June 15, 2022

There’s a story here. But the real gold nugget is how to use GOLD tones with color photos. Here’s what I’ve learned…

My grandpa was always buying and selling antiques and taught me when I was young how to separate the value from the junk. At least he tried to teach me.

I remember him talking about the Curtis gold-tone prints long before digital was a thing. Little did I know that 3o years later I would still be obsessed with gold tones in the back of my mind as I developed my recipes. Maybe because they are so hard to get just right.

But today we’re in color, not re-creating early-era gold tones.
Enter the Gold-Chrome.

As far as I know, there was never a Gold-Chrome film. But maybe there should have been. Now even if you’re wanting to create other tones and mixes, the tips I’m going to share today will work.

Once we know the settings we create, but sometimes we use the slider in a very basic way. Decades later I still find myself discovering formulas. The sliders are a lot like chemicals. While it may be less messy and costly, those curves and up and downs are not any less subtle.

Mount Rainier by Asahel Curtis – Gold Orotype

Since the early days of photography, it seems people noticed the magic in a gold image. From the Platinum pallidum to the Curtis gold tones that were actually processed with real gold. The Orotone!

Maybe it’s the romance that early black and white created with its impure and often tinted results. Maybe it’s just because we love warm tones. It’s a color emotion thing. It’s why in cinema styles there are a lot of looks with orange and blue hues. Being opposite each other on a color wheel, they pair well.

So I recreated the early era darkroom and platinum looks in my Emulsions actions. They take that toning and make it easy to manage in layers. The platinum has a warm tone, not always Gold, but sometimes it actually feels gold.. In the future, I might add an authentic Orotone recipe into Emulsion actions as they can do more complex things than we create with presets and styles.

Here’s our goal…

  • Create dynamic gold tones that are not monochrome.
  • Try to maintain a gold that feels natural with other colors.
  • Make the gold tones versatile across many image types.

The perfect COLOR-Gold formula is NOT Selective color.

Rather than tinted black and white, these are created by how color is mixed and by the natural light in a scene. So if you have a backlit sunset, gold warmth comes more naturally and feels more at home. Don’t confuse this with ugly 90’s selective color.

You may have used the popular Classic Negative if you use Fuji X cameras. This is based on Superia 200 film, but it’s actually a very low saturation looks, while still retaining colors. I have a preset of Classic Negative that also you can download for free here. that I made to use on any field, like this Fuji XE3 street photo, since this model did not include that profile in the camera.

Street workers in a Mexico square, Fuji classic negative preset from Filmist
Not gold – Street workers, Filmist Classic Negative look on a Fuji XE3 RAW file.

You’ve seen this approach used in golden warm sunset photos but may not have even known it. These are not selective colors or black and white. They are shot and developed to focus on the golden warmth, but the color still remains.

I have tinkered with getting this look for over a decade in Lightroom, going all the way back to the first version of Power Workflow. More recently I had a great portrait-focused gold effect in the Muse preset pack called Gold Dust!

UPDATE – Get my Gold recipes as presets for Lightroom and Capture One with my finished Gold-Chrome pack.

Level 1 Gold toning
Warm like a sunset but maintains rich color.

Gold Dust – tone from the Muse presets pack. Sony FIle.

We want that look you see in iconic street photos or magazines. It always starts with light in the camera, but if you develop well, that gold can even be added to less warm images and still feel perfect.

Level 1 is gentle. It could almost be mistaken for White Balance but it’s much richer. Complicating matters more, each camera is different. Fuji tones lean redder, Sony more green etc.

We live in a world of internet marketers selling tools that leave people unhappy. I deal with the fallout of that, which is why I always guarantee my products. I am passionate and often obsessed with this kind of recipe. It cannot just work on one photo, it has to work on most of them.

In the Filmist pack I might spend an entire week focused on a single recipe to get it just right. Today I’ll show you progressively more intense gold recipes I’ve developed.

Don’t do this with White Balance!

Yes, it’s fine to warm or cool a photo a little with WB. It’s one of the secrets of making any6 color formula work for YOUR camera. But you can’t get a proper golden tone with a WB cast adjustment. White balance is often used for this, but incorrectly. Toning needs to come from the more subtle color channel and wheels.

Why? First, no WB setting will work in a Lightroom preset or styles for Capture One. They vary on a per-image basis. Second, you want more depth. When you use the color wheel and even more curves, you have dynamic toning that moves with the shadows and highlights.

Take all the colors away, then start from zero.

TIP: If you’re trying to make a color tone, go to the HSL colors and desaturate every channel.

This working in reverse will really well to help you find the goal. Pull them all down… Now start moving color back in a little at a time.

Next, you mix those with color wheels in mids, shadows, and highlights, then tones. As you progress you will see your effect come to life.

I kept thinking about how to explain more simply how to use advanced color features in Lightroom and Capture One. I’ll be making a channel a video and I’ll post it here in the future when I have

Elote Girl – Cine Soft Brown mi.

On the lighter gold side, we’re talking about a warm overtone that has hints of gold. Another level 1 like we see right here with the elotes girl happy over her corn. Yes, they love their Elotes in Mexico and they are always buying them on the street covered in mayonnaise and chili.

This gets more complex as we go to curves. You can do amazing things with the individual color channels in curves. But you can make a mess very fast. The adjustment in the color cruces, whether in Lightroom, Capture One, or Photoshop, is very finite but very powerful.

Level 2 Gold Toning
Softer color and more expansive warm tones.

But let’s go to level 2 gold. This is not about a vintage look. It’s about feeling good. I did these with what I call my El Dorado process. This pushes other colors down a bit more and focuses on the gold tones and color wheels. But it’s still a full-color photo.

El dorado process

A Gold-Chrome has colors from every channel.

We’re trying to empathize with a tone and feel of a scene that complements the real-world light. Even at level 2, we have a full-color spectrum, but golden warmth is all over the frame here. Level 2 done right, is actually very versatile.

This works great in atmospheric street scenes. But also fashion portraits and beyond. What we’re doing is using color to extend the existing emotions but in a way that doe snot feel like a fake color. If all color is equal, the image looks rather boring.

The parking garage, San Juan Del Rio Mexico -El Dorado tone

Now it’s starting to go GOLD!

By separating color and focusing on a specific range, we control the hues of a scene. In the case of Gold, it tends to give a warm sunset romantic vibe

IN going further we’re going to take a queue from the Curtis Gold tone. Because gold was part of the chemical process, it results in highlights being ultra gold. We’re still working in color, but let’s curve down those highlights and go further.

El Doroado gold chrome process. Level 2 still retains color well.

Going to level 3 – Ultra gold chrome color

What we’ve done is push curves and colors and how they respond more and more without selectively reducing any one color. The sensation of color is soft, leaving you with gold and warm rays. But the influence of the color is still there.

The boy on the dock. Ultra Gold tone. The color is there but the gold is more intense. In some photos, it feels perfectly natural.

In this photo on the lakeshore where it;’s clear sunset, it feels almost natural, but looking at the original file, you see just how much gold we added. I think with any process this should be the goal. Adding your recipe, while maintaining a feel that does not distract and feels right.

Original RAW file from a Fuji X100V

And yet we’ve all seen an image like this. Radiant golden rays that are intense, but feel natural. Like they convey an emotion that we might have felt in the real place. That’s the goal of photography. We have to convey that shadow, the sensation and to me, that’s what a great color formula is about.

A good Gold process is such that you don’t think about it being processed, yOU think about the feel and the story of this boy standing at the end of a dock waiting for his ship to come in. Or maybe something else.

Yes, Use RAW files and presets!

With any of the deep edits, you want RAw whenever possible. It’s especially popular amount street shooters to shoot JPEGs. The Fuji camera for example has great in-camera profiles. But you throw so much away in JPEG and if you want to deep deep recipes like this, you will be glad you have a RAW file to start from. Take a look at my video… Raw vs JPEG 2022.

It’s also important to have these as presets. We talking about adjustments that take hours. Especially when you refine them. So whether you buy presets like mine or make your own. Save at each step so you can use and compare easily later.

Ultra Gold color in a night street scene. Highlights are deeply affected giving this scene a vintage vibe.

Don’t be afraid to level up and do more.

By being progressively bolder, we’ve created a look that can be intense and still feel right. This post was about creating color gold tones. But it’s also about pushing developing settings.

I admit usually start with a presets or action to help kick me in the right direction.

If I see ten variants of a photo, it’s like adding visualizations to my brain and those adapt to create new ideas that I otherwise would have not discovered.

The level 3 process tends to look natural in photos where there is already a natural gold glow on the boy on the dock. Note the extremes in the highlights where level 3 pulls the upper curve down and fills it with warmth. This can work in other scenes like the night shot above, but it tends to bring a vintage vibe that is clearly a color effect. That’s not good to bad, just be aware.

My Gold Chrome Conclusion.

I like this look, which is why I have chased it for so long. How to edit and tone an image is a very personal choice and often there are many approaches that will look good. But if we become less timid, will draw out shadows and tones in new ways.

This has perhaps been an overly intensive look at gold chrome toning. But I’ve been chasing these tones for over a decade, and really ever since my grandpa talked with reverence about early ere Curtis Gold-Tone prints.

As these formulas are refined enough to work in most scenes, you may see them come out in my presets packs. The first level 1 Gold Dust tone is also part of my Muse Collection so if you have them play around and make your own variants.

20 years later I feel like I am starting to understand what needs to be done to make gold work. I have failed many times to get it right. A really good process is one you will come back to. If I am not there yet, I am on the way and I wanted to share with you and I hope you will share what you have found in the comments below.

Gavin Seim

L3 Gold Chrome church in the square. This takes extreme measures on highlights to give a very darkroom-like gold flavor.
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February 8, 2019


“Mexico is forgiving, JPEG is not”

I always shoot RAW because JPEG means data is thrown out and the more data you have the more dynamic range and color gradients and detail you get. In post that’s important. Don’t ever let someone tell you that JPEG is the same as RAW.  Mexico is forgiving, JPEG is not. It has it’s place, but no software or wishing will restore information that has been thrown away.

This week we took a drive in the van up into the high mountains of  La Huasteca Mexico. It’s a magical place in many ways but this time we headed up Hwy 120 towards the tree-line and the jungle of Pinal de Amoles, which sits at about 8000 ft. I took my new Fuji XT3 and a few compact prime lenses. In this case the 35mm f2. We headed up the San Juan side of the mountain which is a but dry dusty side this time of year leading to some dusty long distance views. But when the sun sets behind those, it’s impressive.

That sun was setting as we wound up the hairpins toward the jungle treeline and looking back over the valley above a small town called Carmango was the purest high gradient color sunset I could hope for. It actually reminded me a bit of the smokies back in the USA, but the color was stunning and alive. Just like Mexico.

I got the shot, but I found out after returning home that I accidentally switched the menus of my Fuji XT3  to JPEG. My editing flexibility was now limited and I was kicking myself. Sure the built in profiles from the Fuji look good, but it’s still a JPEG and especially in high dynamic range scenes like this, I want every ounce. With subtle smooth color gradients like this you have to be careful or you will get artifacts. The more you edit the more that can be a problem. Especially if you’re not in 16 bit.

So I started with the original untouched JPEG filer in Capture 1 (LR would also have worked fine). If you look at my our of camera file it’s nice but check out the tonal map from Lumist. It’s already pure clipping. Before anything else I did some brushing to recover a bit of shadow detail on the left foreground. Fully black there will be too much negative tone. After that I opened the file as a 16 bit TIFF in Photoshop. I can’t create more range out of nothing but by switching to 16 bit we get smoother colors and less artifacts as we edit. Here’s what I has our of camera. Not bad. But can we edit it.

The good thing was that I had a few image to choose from. I had taken a few frames and then realized it was beautiful and I should NOT be hand-holding at a higher ISO to make it fast. So I got the tripod and ended up at 1/2 sec, ISO400 f4. I did a bit of bracketing since I had little time to micro analyze the tone. This yielded me a sharp image in with balances zones. Even though I thought I was shooting RAW I kept the highlights down on this, not to compensate, I expose where I want. But because it was more about the color and contrast in the hills. I did not want a washed out sky. That paid off because had I needed to recover highlight from the JPEG, it would have been tough.

Here’s the tone values of that I took into PS and you can see those shadows really were lifted after that first shadow edit  keeping some detail in my black. I didn’t want a lot of detail there so even on the JPEG, this did not introduce a lot of artifacts.

Looks decent. Now into Photoshop.

I used Lumist to examine the tones and see what to change. I wanted to boost thing a little but keep editing to a minimum. The next thing I did was some sky work using selection from Lumist, including a fire paint overlay. I enhanced the natural purple and the oranges of the sky and mountains a little using these. I finished by watching my tones and doing some burn and dodge. A little shadow burning in particulate helped me define the lines between the mountains.

Below you can see the tonal map of the fished image that’s at the top. I kept my sky fiery but with no tones above Zone 8, which is pretty dark for a sunset sky, at least for me. But because the shadows of the image go all the way to Zone 1, we still have rich contrast and a full 8 stops being in the tonal range of the image from Z0-Z8. No muddy crushing of everything into mid tones here.

So Can JPEG Work?

Yes the JPEG worked out and I have a printable image, this time. But this is a good lesson in paying attention. Images minutes before were in RAW and tinkering around in menus I switched over and din’t realize it. I exposed well, but had I shot like this all day at an important event I would have lost images due to highlight and shadows being thrown out. Even here a raw would have given me a tad more subtle quality and that does matter when printing.

Always shoot RAW for art images. The fact that the image was exposed well in camera  like we talk about in the EXposed Workshop and processed carefully in post kept it looking good. JPEG’S can look great, but they can also fall apart when you push them hard and while I don’t always push a file hard. I always recommend the extra latitude of a RAW.

Let me know what you think of the result. — Gav

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October 25, 2018

It’s too busy, it’s too flat and that’s not the color I saw!

Light does not always work the way we expect, especially in the season of color. In today’s video, we head to the autumn woods of Washington and talk about how to get better images of fall color.

In the end, knowing the tactics of good light like we talk about in Exposed and taking the time to just experiment and study your scene will make all the difference. Then comes the processing. If you crave great color don’t miss this month’s Photo Kit workshop on fall color science that’s coming out in a few days. If you’re not a member you can join for free here.

Also check out my new Harvest presets for amazing color mixes in LR and if you enjoyed this sub my YouTube channel here. Enjoy — Gav

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August 24, 2018

Light in nature can be amazing and it can also be awful. Sometime it needs a bit of artificial adjustments, sometimes you just need to find the right shade. In this new upload to my channel we take a quick walk in the woods and talk about using the natural light and surroundings to our advantage.

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January 11, 2017

washington starscapes

This is another starscape I made in Washington. I’ve been working to do exposures that are long, but not so long that the stars trail. This one I exposed at 10 seconds.

I had to use 12,800 to do it, but the detail is great and it prints beatifically. This went loan as 2016 International Competition. — Seim

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